Tuesday, May 15, 2018

One Hundred and Seventy

But to say we’re more alike than we are different is, although not wrong, misleading.  Better to say we’re alike in being different, because everyone is unique. 

This seems paradoxical, which confirms it’s true.  The truth always seems paradoxical to fools, and we’re all foolish most of the time, pretending not to know what we know.

I’ve always asked myself why I stay alive, and usually answered it’s because I still want to understand.  The goal, said Marx, is not to understand the world, but to change it; but I've always known that in order to change the world, one must understand it - know both what it is, and what it could be.  We must understand ourselves as well - know what we can and cannot do to change it.  I’ve always known that I can do nothing alone, and I’ve always known I am alone; but I’ve never allowed myself to put these two facts together and draw the logical conclusion.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty Nine

There’s no one and nothing left to live for.  We could go on living, and hoping we'll do better; but time and time again we’ve chosen to do worse.  And now our time is running out.  Even if we did miraculously change now, and did do better, it’s too late.

Is this true of us, or of me only?  I can’t separate myself from them.

The last mystery of identity: they and I differ in that they imagine they and I are different, while I know we’re more alike than we are different. 

They imagine they can separate themselves from others, and save themselves by leaving the others behind.  I know I can’t because I never wanted to.  Until now.  And now that I wish I could, it’s too late to deceive myself, as they do. 

O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to deceive oursels as ithers deceive us!

Friday, May 11, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty Eight

I listened to Philip Glass’ Akhnaten on YouTube today.  I would have liked to have seen it performed, but it hasn’t been performed often enough to have been taped. 

People who walk out of a Glass performance obviously came knowing little or nothing about him.  One must come prepared to experience his music (one doesn’t enjoy Glass' music; one experiences it) because he doesn’t seek to entertain, to create a fantasy in which the audience can suspend their disbelief for an hour or two before returning to the real world.  He attempts to depict that aspect of the real world which most people most prefer to forget: what we called eternity, when we still understood that change is an illusion. 

Those who accuse Glass of being limited because there’s no progress, no development, in his music are missing the point.  His music is limited because Glass is a composer of and for our times, and we no longer believe in progress. That illusion has been dispelled, because the more we tried to change the more we remained the same. 

Everyone’s accepted - most of us with resignation, but some with glee - that history is dead, and there's no alternative to the existing social order.  Hacks still create narratives with a beginning, a middle and an end to entertain us, but we all know there is no story - or if there is, it isn’t about us and our fantasies.  We come into the story, if that's what it is, in media res, play our part and leave with nothing having been resolved. 

Those who claim Glass is religious because gods figure so often in his narratives ignore the fact that those gods are museum artifacts or objects d’art for the discerning cultural tourist.  Glass is an antiquarian, and his minimalist music is a dead end, the aural equivalent of Beckett’s prose.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty Seven

Sallust said few men want freedom; most only want just masters. He was wrong. Men tell themselves they want justice, personified in just masters, but what they really want is order.

Most men don’t care whether their masters behave in a way some philosopher defines as just. To them, justice is only a word. They want masters whose whims and lusts are orderly and predictable.

Only fools and madmen speak of justice, and debate what each of us would be entitled to in a just world. Those who haven’t yet been driven mad by their misfortunes, or the misfortunes of others, know that in the real world might makes right, and we’re entitled only to whatever we can take and keep.

Social Darwinists claim we’re animals, like any other. That’s clearly untrue. Animals in a state of nature are social, with a sense of right and wrong. We’re antisocial animals. preying on each other and and asserting what we call our free will by doing what common sense tells us is wrong.

We live in a cage of our own making which we call civilization, and we’ve gone mad as all caged animals eventually do, turning on each other and ourselves. Now that we’ve accepted there’s no escape from this cage except through death, we seek to die.

Friday, May 4, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty Six

Being told you're going to die shouldn't be anticlimactic, but dying ten years from now isn't near enough to be alarming. Neither is it far enough to be easily ignored.

I was a bit glum, but mostly because on the way home from the doctor's office I drove through the old neighborhood. 

I'd driven though it for the first time in decades last summer, and was awed by its beauty. The uncut grass was knee high and the abandoned houses were barely visible, engulfed in greenery like ruined temples in a rainforest. Sunlight flickering through leafy tree branches overhead reminded me of stained glass windows in a cathedral. I thought it was the perfect place in which to die, and vowed to come back when I was ready to kill myself. But this time the grass had been cut, and the houses looked bleak as disinterred corpses. 

Saddest of all, a car was parked in front of one of the houses with its hood up, and a man was working on it. Someone's living in this graveyard.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty Five

All my life I’ve dreamed of travelling.  Up north.  To the city.  To places I’ve never been except in imagination.  Anywhere but here, wherever ‘here’ happened to be.  I’ve never been at home anywhere except in my imagination.

All my life I’ve dreamed of losing my way.  But not in the forest, like Dante.  It’s in the city that I lose my way, and in buildings like the Tower of Babel or Vanity Fair.  I’ve always been at home in the forest, an animal among other animals.  In the city I get lost among the featherless bipeds, alone in the crowd.

I’ve always been alone.  We all are, but the others don’t seem to know it.  Don’t want to know it.

We can’t know each other, or ourselves, unless we know that we’re always alone with ourselves, with our own thoughts.

What do the others think?  Do they think?  To think is to be made aware of how we differ, if they’re our own thoughts.

Most people don’t think for themselves.  Not because they’re stupid, but because they don’t want to be alone.

Fear of being alone makes them think what they imagine are other people’s thoughts, which gives them the comforting feeling of belonging to the crowd.  But it’s an illusion.

Thinking they’re part of a crowd, all of whose members think the same, are the same, prevents us from knowing who we really are.  One is always alone in a crowd.

I still weep for them, even now, because lost though I am, they don’t even know they’re lost.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty Four

When Socrates was told the oracle had called him the wisest man in Athens, he said he knew nothing. Fools call this a paradox.

Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, but not the wisest man in the world.  He therefore asked himself why most men don’t do what’s good, and decided it’s because they don’t know what’s good.  They need wise men to teach them.

We’ve had many wise teachers.  Most of them became frustrated by the seeming inability of their students to put their teachings into practice, and distilled their wisdom into a few simple rules.  These rules have been refined over the generations – Confucius’ negative Silver Rule (Do not do unto others as you would not want them to do unto you) became Jesus’ positive Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) - but they remained essentially the same because we’re limited beings who can hold only a few ideas in our heads at one time.  Our teachers restate the same old ideas in new words because we can’t or won’t follow them. 

Our teachers were fools to think we would.

We need men with special skills or knowledge to teach us how to build a boat or a society, but we don’t need them to tell us the right thing to do.  All we need is common sense; and common sense teaches us our society is badly built.  Our rulers don’t obey the rules they make for others, and exploit those they claim to govern as parasites exploit their hosts.  When might makes right, only fools obey the law. 

Most wise men use their wisdom to invent reasons why we shouldn’t disobey the law, which common sense tells us is the right thing to do in an unjust society.  Some tell us we’re slaves, and should obey our masters as children obey their parents, trusting them to do what’s best for us.  But the relationship between masters and slaves is comparable only in that not all parents are good and/or wise.

Others tell us we’re predators and prey, like all animals, and should behave accordingly.  But all animals have a sense of right and wrong.  Humans differ from other animals only in having reason, which we mostly use to justify doing what we know is wrong.  Other animals kill out of necessity, but we kill for sport; which is why humans also differ from other animals in feeling guilt when they do what their reason tells them is wrong.  

We know we’re not like other animals, but we don’t know how we differ.

In order to know myself, I must know what is not myself.  I must know not only how self and other differ, but how they’re the same.  Because they’re both.

Those who imagine they know the truth imagine it’s either one thing or its opposite, but not both.  Wise men know it’s always both; but when they tell that to others, fools call it illogical.

Cogito, ergo sum, said Descartes; but knowing only myself is the knowledge a parasite has.  It knows the host on which it feeds only in relation to itself and its needs

All life is food, say the Hindus.  Life feeds on life.  We all know this without needing to be told.  We differ from other animals in that knowing some must die in order for others to live has always troubled us.  It was one reason – perhaps the main reason – why we invented religion.

Our first gods were spirits of the animals we killed and ate, who we pretended died willingly and unselfishly so that we could live.  Next were our ancestors, the people who gave us life.  Last were great leaders of the hunt, who we still follow in death as we did in life.

Often these gods ordered us to do terrible things in return for their patronage - ordered us to kill the worshippers of other gods to prove our loyalty to them - but we could bear the guilt of doing what we knew was wrong because they ordered us to do it.  But no longer.

It’s not because we’re wiser than our ancestors that we can no longer believe in gods, as they did.  It’s just the opposite.  We’re not clever enough to invent plausible myths that justify doing what we know is wrong, as they did. Neither are we clever enough to find a way to change, and do what we know is right.

Like Socrates, we were the wisest of animals because we knew we knew nothing.  Now we know too much, but not enough.

We’ve always known we're predators, but not like other animals. Other animals kill out of necessity, in order to survive. We kill for sport. But that mattered less than the knowledge that we’re also god’s children, half way up the great chain of being, above the beasts and below the angels.  We’re saved as long as we obey our gods. They forgave us when we couldn’t forgive ourselves.  But no longer.

Now we know we're the most successful predator in the history of the world not because we’re god’s children, but because we’re omnivores who prey on each other as readily as we do other animals. And because we’re delusional.  

We live not in the real world, but in a fantasy of our own making, in which everything we do is right; and that delusion gave us the courage to terrible things.  We know better now, but that knowledge is not power.  We don’t know how to stop being predators and become what we’ve always pretended we were: homo sapiens.  

Waking from this dream hasn’t freed us.  The reality of what we are and what we’ve done – and continue to do - is a nightmare from which we’re fleeing even deeper into fantasies that our supposedly ignorant ancestors would ridicule.  They sought to know, but we seek to forget.  So we've stopped evolving, and are now devolving into Stone Age barbarians armed with Atomic Age weapons.